Erdogan lays stone for modern Turkey’s first new church

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, right, receives a present from Yusuf Cetin, the Turkish Christian relgious leader, in Istanbul on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 03 August 2019

Erdogan lays stone for modern Turkey’s first new church

ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday laid the foundation stone for the first new church in Turkey since it became a modern republic in 1923.
The church in the Istanbul suburb of Yesilkoy will serve the 17,000-strong Syriac Christian community, which is also paying for the new building.
“It is the Turkish republic’s duty to meet the need for space to worship for the Syriac community, who are the ancient children of this geography,” Erdogan said during the stone-laying ceremony.
Syriac Christians are part of the eastern Christian tradition and pray in Aramaic, which Jesus is believed to have spoken.
Erdogan said he hoped the construction of the Syriac Orthodox Mor Ephrem Church would be completed within two years.
He had ordered the Istanbul metropolitan municipality to find space for the building in 2009 while he was prime minister.
It is being built on land belonging to the Latin Catholic Church and which is part of an Italian cemetery, the head of the Beyoglu Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church Foundation in Istanbul, Sait Susin, said.
In recent years, Turkey has restored and reopened churches but the government has been criticized for trying to Islamicize the official secular country.
Christian minorities including Armenians have also complained of being treated as second-class citizens in the Muslim-majority country.
Christians make up around 0.2 percent of the total population in Turkey.

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The new church is being built on land belonging to the Latin Catholic Church and which is part of an Italian cemetery, the head of the Beyoglu Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church Foundation in Istanbul.

But Erdogan sought to extend a hand to other communities in the country of 82 million, saying “don’t forget, this country, this state belongs to everyone.”
“Anyone who has affection for, contributes to and is loyal to Turkey is a first-class citizen. There are no barriers to anyone in politics, trade or any other area.”
Official statistics show 98 percent of the Turkish population is Muslim but a poll by Konda group earlier this year showed the number of people identifying as atheist rose from 1 to 3 percent between 2008 and 2018.
In the same survey, 51 percent said they were religious in 2018 compared with 55 percent in 2008, although the number of those who said they were a “believer” rose from 31 percent to 34 percent in a decade.


Young Libyans chose danger at sea over peril at home

Updated 4 min 27 sec ago

Young Libyans chose danger at sea over peril at home

For three young Libyans plucked from a deflating dingy in the Mediterranean, the perils of trying to cross the sea were still preferable to what they had left behind in their war-torn home.
Salah, Khalil and Ibrahim, aged between 19 and 22, sat in a corner of the Ocean Viking vessel operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders as it waited for permission to dock at a port.
They sat apart from other migrants from Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia, Senegal and the Ivory Coast who have fled torture and abuse in Libya where most of them had gone to seek work.
“I had no idea how dangerous the sea could be,” says Khalil, 20.
“But Libya is collapsing — you cannot live there,” he adds, pulling an imaginary trigger.


Before he fled Libya, Khalil was a taxi driver.
While driving the route from Sabha, his hometown in the center to the eastern city of Benghazi, he was stopped by militia loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a strongman who holds sway in the region.
He said he was thrown into prison where he languished for three months alongside hundreds of others and was beaten daily, pointing to a scar in the corner of his mouth.
He later made a break for freedom with about 15 fellow prisoners, running the gauntlet of their jailers who fired on them as they fled.
“People were shot around me but I didn’t stop,’ he said. “I was hit too.”
Luca, the ship’s doctor who removed the bullets embedded in Khalil’s body, says such wounds are nothing new among those fleeing from conflict areas.
With his taxi taken from him, Khalil returned to his family. “I just wanted to live a normal life,” he said.
But a month later fighting broke out in his town and his mother told him to flee.
“She had no idea of how dangerous the crossing could be,” Khalil says. “Neither did I. I was happy to try the sea.”
But by the time he was rescued by Doctors without Borders on August 12, the blue rubber dingy he was sharing with 104 others was on the verge of sinking.


Nineteen-year-old Salah joined the forces of the Government of National Accord of Fayez-al-Sarraj. But he soon realized that he was not cut out for war.
“If I had stayed, I would have been killed — either by Sarraj’s men for fleeing, or by Haftar’s men for fighting for Sarraj,” he said.
He got a number from a Sudanese, and left the same day — with just time for one last selfie with his family.
Ibrahim’s reason for fleeing was the color of his skin.
“My father was black — he is dead. My uncle died in the fighting. My school was bombed. My mother said to me ‘Libya is not a country for you’.”
“My Sudanese friends were like a family to me. One from Darfur was killed right in front of me as we were on our way to play football,” he said.
“I didn’t want to fight. I was terrified on that blue boat, but Libya is more dangerous than our sunken vessel.”